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December 9, 2018

Demolition of buildings on legal land


December 9, 2018

ISLAMABAD: Officials are discrediting the country-wide anti-encroachment drive, a positive initiative of the Supreme Court and the new government, and instead of demolishing illegal structures built on encroached government land, trying to take ‘benefit’ of the situation by blackmailing the citizens having legally constructed buildings on the lands owned by them.

In a sharp contradiction to PTI government’s policy to promote investments and generate employment opportunities, even in Islamabad, the Capital Development Authority (CDA), which comes under the direct control of the prime minister, is destroying the already running businesses and jobs.

While CDA opted to keep a mum, Ali Nawaz Awan, the special assistant to the Prime Minister on CDA, agrees that action must be against encroachers of government lands and not against the private owners of businesses before the government comes up with a policy about those businesses.

While a great initiative of getting rid of all illegal encroachments was in progress, the baboos for their vested interests, have now started destroying legitimate businesses which will result in massive cuts in taxes and revenue collection and elimination of already availed jobs instead of creating new ones.

While Prime Minister Imran Khan has already announced to review the policy regarding ongoing anti-encroachment drive in Karachi, the situation in other parts of the country, especially in Islamabad, is getting worse with every passing day and baboos are set to get maximum from the situation created following a sincere decision of the new government to remove all kind of encroachments.

What the officials are doing is interesting. After little drive against actual encroachments on illegally occupied government lands (such encroachments were also a great source of illegal income for baboos), the officials for obvious interests are befooling the government and trying to divert the operation against profit earning businesses being run on legally-owned private commercial lands by pointing out some minor irregularities or by introducing new bylaws so to establish that buildings are under non-conforming use and issuing notices for complete demolition of such buildings.

In Islamabad, the CDA couldn’t even introduce a policy for construction of buildings for different purposes and businesses like marriage halls, schools, guest houses for decades until the Supreme Court of Pakistan took notice on encroachments and illegal constructions last year. It is worth mentioning that the CDA, which is considered as a moneymaking machine for the baboos, couldn’t even introduce a policy for construction of marriage halls during last six decades and the only policy on this count was announced in March this year that too after the Supreme Court took notice of the situation. Schools, guests houses, marriage halls are must to cater for the basic needs of big population of cities. The population of the capital territory is more than two million at present.

Before March this year, the authority was allowing construction of buildings for marriage halls without regularising them with the excuse that it didn’t have any regulations to approve or disapprove buildings in this category. Citizens invested huge sums of hard-earned money for such legitimate businesses, constructed buildings on the lands owned by them and now are being harassed by baboos who are misquoting an apex court judgement. The Supreme Court judgement on June 26, 2018 in the matter in fact ordered regularisation of these businesses and buildings in accordance with a laid down policy and rules after receiving prescribed fees. Building Control Section of the CDA, despite a clear verdict of the apex court and without introducing a clear policy, is issuing seven days demolition of building notices to the owners of the businesses which are not constructed on encroached land but on private and legally owned lands.

The Supreme Court in its June 26, 2018 judgement after declaring that CDA couldn’t even introduce regulations until the court took notice of the issue, declared, “2. Having considered the arguments presented, all the marriage halls/marquees which have been asked to pay the regularisation fee have accepted that they will do so, and this has also been conceded by counsel appearing on their behalf. Therefore they must pay the regularisation charges and be in compliance with the applicable conditions and criteria as laid down and acquire/obtain requisite certificate from CDA in this regard, including in particular as regards the sanctioning of their building/construction plans. If there is some deviation in their construction/plans which is against the CDA rules but can be compounded, they will either pay the compounding charges or demolish that part of the construction that is not in consonance with the applicable rules/regulations. However, if any part of the construction cannot even be compounded, then all the portion will have to be demolished.” Earlier a commission set up by the apex court in the same matter comprising federal ombudsman has raised serious questions on the rationality of new bylaws of the CDA and has recommended that these new regulations and bylaws be revised in consultation with all stockholders. However, without any such consultations, in an indecent haste, CDA’ Building Control Section, for obvious reasons, went on to issue notices for complete demolition of buildings to almost all the marriage halls and marquees in the capital.

One wonders that if a legitimate business is being run since many years in a building constructed on private commercial land following bylaws and now under a newly introduced policy for that specific business, the business violates some of the points in the new policy, will the Authority ask the business to fulfil the newly-introduced requirements or at maximum stop that specific business activity or will go the extent of demolishing the whole building constructed on legally owned land? Will such an act of demolishing a legitimate building be considered a part of anti-encroachment drive or an effort to make money by harassing citizens?

The key point to understand baboos’ lust to make maximum money taking advantage of the current situation is that instead of making any business to get it regulated or revise its buildings structure as per apex court directions, baboos in order to harass citizens issuing notices for complete demolition of buildings which obviously can be used for any other purpose.

According to its master plan, Islamabad is divided into five zones. There were zoning regulations imposing ban or allowing construction for all zone except Zone-4 until 2014 when CDA also issued regulation for this zone allowing construction under some conditions. Before, 2014, whenever, any citizen owning land in Zone-4 would seek permission from CDA for construction of building, CDA used to respond that as there are no regulations for this zone so authority will not intervene into any such matter and owner of the land can proceed as per his/her free will.

If the issue is that non-conforming use of land, the strictest ban as per CDA Zoning regulations on the construction is in the case of Zone-3 which also include Banigala area which is being regularized. So basically there is no policy as if any building is to be demolished because of its non-conforming use, there must be one policy which should be implemented across the board. How can CDA allow non-conforming use of land in Zone-3 and will move to regularize illegal constructions which are totally illegal by all means and will move ahead to demolish buildings in Zone-4 where construction of buildings is permissible now? How much money CDA officials want to make by such moves of issuing notices of complete demolition of legally built buildings.

The basic question is; if there was no policy for some businesses which cater the basic needs of millions of citizens, like schools, guest houses, halls to arrange functions, parties, marriages; will the government first come up with a policy to regulate such businesses and will define location or specific areas for them or will destroy the legitimate businesses running in legally owned buildings before introducing such a policy?

The CDA is tight-lipped on the issue and Faisal Naeem, the head of Building Control Section of the CDA, when approached, opted to not to respond questions regarding misusing a positive Supreme Court judgement on this issue, not acting against those who have made building on encroached government lands and only issuing notices to demolish buildings to the legally run businesses in the private buildings. Faisal Naeem is issuing notices to such businesses despite clear Supreme Court judgement.

However, Ali Nawaz Awan, special assistant to the PM on CDA and PTI’s MNA from Islamabad, while talking to The News said there is no doubt that successive governments in the past failed to introduce any policy to regularise such businesses which cater the basic needs of the citizens living in the federal capital and now any drive against any illegalities in such businesses can only be run after the government first specify or provide areas for such businesses and then introduces a comprehensive policy and regulations to regulate such businesses.

“If any notices have been issued to any businesses in Islamabad being run in private buildings and not on encroached lands, this might have been done by any CDA department or officials and the PTI government has nothing to do with it,” Ali Nawaz said, adding, “We are working to address this situation and are in the process to formulate policies for all such businesses in the federal capital.”

Ali Nawaz said that the government has already announced that Prime Minister Imran Khan has approved to revise the master plan of Islamabad and after revision of this master plan the government will come up with the policies and regulations to regulate all kind of businesses and building regulations for them.

Ali Nawaz said it is strange that the CDA suddenly wants to take action against guest houses without realising that it failed to come up with a policy to regulate such guest houses during last six decades and without considering the fact that what will happen to around 22,000 people who stay in these guest houses every day. Ali Nawaz said that as per his information, these 22,000 people come from the across the country in the federal capital for seeking visas, for getting their issues/problems resolved from the government offices, for medical issues and for many more things and stay in these guests houses. He said how come the CDA after failing for decades to address these issues can now suddenly start taking action against such business without coming up with a clear policy and giving appropriate time to such businesses. Ali Nawaz questioned as to why the CDA and previous governments failed to come up with an education policy and a policy for school buildings to cater the needs of 2.6 million population of the federal capital.

The special assistant to the PM said the apex court has ordered to remove illegal encroachments and to regularise all such businesses by making regulations and devising policies for them. “We are working on that and soon we will come up with a revised master plan of the capital, rational policies to regulate all such businesses so that rights of the citizens are safeguarded,” Ali Nawaz said.